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Study of int’l relations turns attention to music

Author  :  Mao Li     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2016-03-01

Chinese musicians perform in Okan University in Istanbul, Turkey. The show attracted a crowd of over 400 on April 9, 2015.

When music—an abstract, emotional art form—runs into the life-or-death issues of international relations, what chemistry can it spark? In recent years, as scholars have further explored cultural aspects of international relations studies, the scope of research has expanded to include music.

Part of soft power

“Like poetry and painting, music is never simply for entertainment. Instead, it embodies people’s understanding of the world and a spiritual reflection of realistic politics,” said Chen Yudan, a lecturer at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University.

Chen said the relationship between music and international politics can be interpreted as follows: First, music is an expression of international politics, which can reveal power relations or signal political constancy and change. Second, music can shape international politics because together with other art forms, music influences people’s basic understanding of the world, and when combined with tangible physical forces, it can shape the world’s political stage.

Shi Bing, a professor from the School of Government at Nanjing University, said that music is a component of national soft power. For example, American pop music, Hollywood movies and fast-food culture have an indispensable role in building and promoting the national image of the United States.

Music can be a valuable tool in pursuing political, diplomatic or economic gains, Shi said. “As a means of public diplomacy, music diplomacy can directly and widely reach governments and the general public, thus clearing up misunderstandings, changing negative perceptions and improving the public opinion environment.”

New perspective

Feng Shaolei, director of the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University, said that the marriage of music and international politics opens up a new chapter in international relations studies.

International relations studies is regarded as an inclusive subject with no clear boundaries, but in fact discussions of politics, security and economics are the main focus, whereas research on cultural perspectives is often lacking, Shi said.

Therefore, Shi said, examining international relations through the humanistic literature and arts presents a supplementary angle in today’s highly intertwined world and should be encouraged.

Chen said the primary concern should be the reflection and construction of art theories when introducing music to the study because the key is figuring out if we can apply the ontology, cognitive theory, and methodology of art to international politics. Otherwise, music will become a novel and minor topic that eventually will be edged out.

Great potential

Currently, the role of music in the history of international relations has attracted the attention of both music and diplomatic historians, Chen said. However, the main focus is on the music diplomacy of Europe and the United States, among which the top priority is the Cold War period, and little attention is paid to other countries and regions.

Shi said music links nations to the international community in its unique way, reflecting differences and conflicts as well as the realistic possibility of consensus and convergence, which contains certain forms of enlightenment that can help human beings transform the world.

“Music can display the wisdom of ‘harmony without uniformity’ that the Chinese have long come to appreciate but Westerners do not understand,” Shi said, adding that a great work of music, regardless of its creation and interpretation, should avoid repetition of contents or fragmented and disorganized pieces, so a harmonious world order, by its nature, is the pursuit of harmony in diversity.

Chen said that Chinese scholars have enormous potential in the study of music and international relations because in the Chinese traditions, music and rituals, or ethical and political codes, have a natural connection. Therefore, the concept and practices of rites and music have become a new research subject in the discipline and offers a new perspective for interpreting international relations.



Editor: Ma Yuhong

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